Vena amoris

I never wanted to be just another seed or jewel on your necklace, not even if mine happened to be the largest stone nestling into your suprasternal notch. I wanted to be the whole necklace, the bracelet around your wrist, the ring about the fourth finger of your left hand. And in the darker world of our fantasies, the collar around your neck, the rope about your wrists, the padlock securing – and simultaneously liberating – your free will.

Just as in turn I wished to wear the key to that lock around my neck, the belt with which you granted me licence about my waist, and the second of the pair of rings on the fourth finger of my left hand.

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Pole star

Forgive me for my longing for you, for the insatiable greed with which I seek you, so much like the avarice of rats or kings or poets. Know that I understand the demands that places upon you (and so in turn upon me).

Just as I forgive you for not knowing which way to turn, for the troubled inconstancy with which you meet my constant as the pole star gaze. And I know that you understand the demands that places upon me (and so in turn upon you).

Museums of Broken Relationships

A new Museum of Broken Relationships has opened on – of all places – Hollywood Boulevard (surely already more the Boulevard of Broken Dreams than anything else, at least for those who have not been so lucky as to be immortalised with their own star). It is a franchise version of the original travelling exhibit and museum, which opened its permanent doors in Zagreb in 2010, the year you and I first met.

The museums’ exhibits are exotic in their variety and unpredictability. Besides a pair of fake breasts, a frisbee and a toaster, there is belly button fluff:

‘D’s stomach had a particular arrangement of body hair that made his belly button prone to collecting lint. Occasionally, he’d extract a piece and stick it to my body, sweaty after sex. One day… I met his oddity with my own; I put the lint in a small bag and concealed it away in the drawer of my bedside table.’

The museums bring to mind the things that you wrote about discarding last year, in a determined act of survival – the bracelet, the stone I turned into a poem, notes and letters in my hand. I wondered then as I wonder now whether you kept the various books I gave you. I hope so, that they can in some way stand apart from me, and yet still bring me to mind when your eye lands on their spines. But equally, I wouldn’t be surprised if you have sold them, finding yourself curious to see which of your customers might offer those tokens of love a new lease of life.

Inevitably I find myself considering what I might contribute to such a museum, if one opened in this country and I felt moved to pack it up a parcel, including the requisite short text explaining the enclosed object’s significance. The most obvious thing would be the coin you gave me, for luck, for remembrance, for love. But it continues to form a ritual part of my days, and I cannot bear to part with it. I still feel it has fortune to support, and neither do I wish to forget.

What about the lingerie you deliberately left behind; mementos of what I took from you, of what you were happy to give to me? Again I feel the same reluctance. Besides, perhaps they would be too obvious, too stereotypical a contribution. After all, the LA museum is opening on the site of a lingerie shop that went bankrupt.

Then perhaps one of the notes in your lovely, loopy hand, relics which I keep in an envelope at work (though soon I will have to find a new hiding place for them). But which? Inscribed on the back of a faded black and white photograph of a swan, are the words ‘For my favourite story-teller and spinner of words…’, followed by a declaration of love, and a short PS: ‘Hope it works!’ – this having been the note accompanying the aforementioned coin.

Or another similarly faded black and white photo, of a skyful of birds. It’s hard to make out which species; perhaps they are murmurating starlings or skeining geese, or possibly they’re windblown rooks. On its back you wrote a six line poem, surrounding the words with tendrils from which hearts grew. Soon after sending it to me, you went on to write a beautifully quizzical piece castigating yourself for your choice of one particular word in its last line; and as with every new part of you that you gifted me, I only loved you all the more for it.

I wonder if you remember now the shopkeeper’s tag that you attached to the smallest, sweetest slither of a crepe-wrapped present, that having been the fragile token depicting two love-birds which I used to keep in my pocket before the coin replaced it. Its string intact, the tag has the smallest, sweetest slither of a note written on both sides of it.

Finally, and most recently, there are a few words on a scrap of paper torn from a notebook, which you had folded into a small square and inserted into the pages of a late Christmas present, a book I later returned to you so that you yourself could read it. On the uppermost folded square, you had written this haiku:

we found each other
and whatever happens now
the world is brighter

Perhaps, if I could bear to part with it, this haiku note, together with the ones I sent back to you and the book within which they were all hidden, which set in motion our call-and-response writing of haiku and tanka, might most suitably form our joint contribution.

But the truth is, I do not want to think of our relationship as broken. It happened, and despite circumstances, went on happening, in the most beautiful ways imaginable. And then it stopped happening (over and over again, as it turned out). It may finally have ended once and for all, but the days and the memories of them linger, they will not be banished no matter how hard you or I try. Perhaps I am kidding myself, but there is a sense in which our love will live forever, or at least, for as long as each of us are able to remember it. My love is unbroken – will not be broken – and so I cannot see myself ever contributing any of those precious relics to either of the existing Museums of Broken Relationships, nor to one that might in future open here.

The gift #7 – The glass beach

Mendocino. Mendocino remained the dream. And now they were on the way to making it a reality.

Reality – that wasn’t quite it. Each day that they spent together had the feeling of hyperreality, in the artistic sense as much as the semiotic. Everything they saw seemed as if it had been created for their eyes alone, so vivid were the colours, the delineations, the textures, all of it magnified for the one by the presence of the other. He saw for himself, and simultaneously through her eyes, and he knew it was the same for her. Placed against the Pacific coast sunshine, she herself was real, living and raw and vulnerable; not untouched by time but to him she was all the more beautiful for that. With the car windows wound down, her golden hair blew back in the breeze, and his heart leapt to see her unvarnished vitality beside him. Suited to movement, to the vagabond life, to travelling light, she was at once a fixed body and a blur of motion, and even after all their travels and travails, he could still not quite believe that his was the gift of flying alongside her.

‘This is it,’ he said, turning into the parking lot. They opened the doors of the car they had hired in Portland two days before and looked out over the rocks embedded in the undulating deep blue coverlet of the sea. A gentle introduction to the wildness of the coastline that they were thinking of making their temporary home.

Earlier in the day, they had driven through a giant sequoia. He had told her that they were going to do that. But he hadn’t told her about the beach. He wanted to surprise her with it. He had even checked the times of the tides, to be sure they would see it at its best.

He let her discover it for herself. From the one sign they saw, from dropping in wonder to her haunches to pick handfuls of worn-down gems of wave-smoothed glass, clear and green and brown and amber. And then he told her the tale. For this beach had once in large part been made up of thrown-away glass bottles, along with general rubbish, unwanted appliances and even cars. It had been the town dump. The metal and other non-biodegradable detritus had been removed in extensive clean-up operations, leaving only what nature could over time wear down itself, the glass and pottery; these rounded-off pieces, the same size as pebbles, had originally been broken shards and jagged fragments.

They sat among the gumdrop remnants of the bottles and wondered about the elixirs those vessels had contained, the people who had drunk from them, and the dreams and disasters they had unleashed. It was so tempting to take a little green or amber jewel of glass as a memento. After all, that’s what everyone else seemed to do. They both thought about it. They both knew that not long from now this day would seem like a dream and they each wanted to be able to look at and pick up a physical reminder that their dream had been real, that it had come to pass. But they knew that if they took a single glass pebble, and every other visitor did so, then this beach would soon lose what made it special. It was clearly already happening, but they wanted no part of that. So they let the glass pebbles slip through their fingers, and listened to them clinking like marbles as they rejoined the beach. They would have to seek some other small reminder of the day – perhaps a coaster from the diner where they would eat chowder and drink Mendocino County wine, or a monogrammed towel from the sea-facing motel they were to stay at, neither of which would seem quite as heinous a theft as a single precious gem from this beach.

The following morning when their eyes met, he rolled himself on top of her, took her face in his hands, and kissed her so deeply that she felt she was falling through the whiteness of the bed into a place where nothing could touch her except his fingers, his mouth, his heartbeat, and all the smoothed and rounded parts of him. Lifting his lips from hers, he whispered in her ear. ‘Tomorrow, Mendocino. Today, how about we go for a ride on the Skunk Train?’

‘Yes,’ she said, the word so soft with love and thick with desire that she uttered it again. ‘Yes.’

A rose by any other name

There is an acid edge to every waking moment.
The loss. The wound of it wider open,
rejuvenated with the salt of tears.
I am set back, crippled and struggling to believe
that either words or memories will ever be enough.
That I will never heal. Never know peace.
Even the truth of our love stings as I sift
among the softness of its many fallen petals

– oh, and they of a white so pale it seems a richness,
and there the hue of pink on the undersides too –

raising the scent of your perfume from that day, or this
while I pull prickles from my flesh, relishing the pain,
leaving others where they are fast stuck,
to stand testament, like poems or songs or coins.
I live in fear of being woken (from every waking moment)
to discover what lies beyond the end of our hybrid dream,
and so I am lost; all I desire is to be found again.

The end of ‘The broken road’

I have become a hermit in a caved-out eerie
at the end of the peninsula of Mount Athos
with little more ledge than Simeon Stylites’ pillar
wherein or upon which I spend endless days and wilder nights
in solitary confinement not to mention heretical cogitation
of the deity I have long worshipped
hoping against hope that in fabulous visions
she will show herself and join with her ascetic
in moments of ecstasy so stretched out
that they make a mockery
both of creation and eternity

Intercession

I don’t think I ever told you, did I, about the time my sister’s Irish boyfriend rang me up and asked me to intercede on his behalf, because she was refusing to talk to him, having decided in her head that it was over, that he’d let her down once too often. At least until her husband came along some years later, this Irish fella was the love of her life, but he couldn’t quite commit to her, he couldn’t leave Belfast for a life in England with her; he was a weekend dad with two daughters from a marriage that had come unstuck. Nor for some reason would he let her come to him. I can no longer remember many of the other particulars, but I listened to him, and because he importuned me to, I tried to hold in my head what his thoughts and feelings were so that I could pass them on to my sister.

For more than an hour, he talked about her and them and the it of their relationship, and I felt for him, I wished it could be that it would turn out alright, but I knew that my sister had already made the break in her head, if not her heart. He called upon me to put what I thought her view of all this was, and I did that too, as best I could, and then I listened some more as he in turn tried his best both to apologise and to counter. – Just one more chance, that’s all I’m asking for, he said, his voice breaking, and I told him I would do my best. He knew I had my sister’s ear, that she would already have discussed her decision with me, that I was the wise old owl in her life, relatively speaking. He knew too that I was fair, that I wouldn’t misrepresent him. He guessed that I would see both sides. He was right. I could see both sides.

And so there followed another hour-long phone call with my sister, in which she remained unmoved by persuasion at one remove, and then a second, much shorter phone call with her Irish ex. I told him the answer as gently as I could. His voice cracking, very nearly gone, he thanked me for trying and wished me well. Then he put the phone down, and began the job of facing the rest of his life without the woman he undoubtedly loved.

Much as ever, much as before

Sometimes I wonder if I deliberately injured myself that night, because I needed something to change. Like when you’re driving and you go faster and faster and you think you might soon go fast enough to flip the car off the road as you round a bend and a part of you doesn’t give a flying fuck and is in point of fact curious to see what it would feel like to sail through the air and be thrown about like a rag doll and break and bleed and die. And then you scare yourself with that vision, that not giving a flying fuck, and take your foot off the accelerator.

I was running recklessly fast that night, that minute, that moment, and it could have ended badly for either of us. Older, weaker, I was the one who came off worst. So I wonder. Maybe – subconsciously at most – I wanted an end to football, an end to work, a demarcation in my life. Maybe, just maybe, this was a kind of self-harm, the product of a mind maddened to breaking point. Maybe I wanted to suffer physically, the better to accord my body with my mind, my heart. Forgive me if it was so, though I can never be certain that it was. Because alongside that grain of speculative doubt, there is the heartfelt wish that I could rewind to that evening, and make sure that we play the game again with the slower indoor ball, so that I would not have needed to be running as fast after the skiddy outdoor one, so that no injury on this scale would ever have taken place, so that life would have gone much as ever, much as before. And not five minutes before the injury there had been that moment of clarity, when I had said to myself, blimey, I feel as fit as I’ve ever felt, I could run all night.

Maybe it was just life deciding to take me down a peg or two.

I miss the running, I miss the instinctive geometry of foot connecting with ball, I miss that beautiful journey home via the back lanes. I miss the weekly friends, the weekly banter. I miss telling you about it, miss dedicating my goals to you (schmaltzy softy that I am), miss turning each one into a carefully placed kiss, miss hearing you say how much you wish you could be a watching fly on the wall, miss imagining your actual presence there in the window above the hall, the heads you would turn, the eyebrows you would raise.

It’s all gone now and life is going on much as before, much as ever and I still have a job about which the best that can be said is that I tolerate it and it tolerates me. And much as ever, much as before, there is you and your absence and it still breaks my heart that my life is not your life, that things between us are not not going on much as before, much as ever. Because with you there was no much as ever, much as before. There never was and there never would be. That I know. Because neither of us would ever let it be so, you least of all. It was just one of the reasons why I loved you. And now, though I have looked to see, I can find no reason not to go on loving you, and so I do, much as before, much as ever.